One snowy evening in late December, in the middle of the night, a thief broke into a home inhabited by a solitary old man. The thief came in through the front window very quietly and was shocked to see the old man sitting right there in the middle of the floor.
The thief, unsure of what to do, remained still.
After a moment, the old man spoke up: “I know what you have come seeking. You will find all that I possess of any value right here in this room. You are free to take what you need.”
The thief began throwing everything he could into a large sack. When he got to a small stack of wrapped gifts, the old man said to him, “Please do not take those, for they have been purchased for the local homeless children and are not mine to give. Take anything else you desire, but leave those things.”
The thief took everything but the presents and turned to leave. Just as he was climbing back out the window with his loot, the old man said to him, “You should always thank a person who gives you a gift.”
“Thank you,” said the thief and quickly vanished.
The following morning, the old man was called down to the police station to identify a burglar who had been captured in the night. The police explained that they had picked up a man with a sack full of what appeared to be stolen goods and traced his path through the snow back to the old man’s front window. All they needed was for the old man to confirm that the items were his and they could put the thief behind bars.
The old man recognized their captor as the visitor from the previous evening. He said to the policemen, “It is true that this man was in my home last night. But the items in his sack were given to him freely and he thanked me for them. As far as I’m concerned, he is not a thief.”
Upon being released from custody, the former thief returned all the old man’s property and dedicated the rest of his life to helping others.
NOTE: This has been my holiday retelling of an ancient Zen parable known as “Sichiri Kojun and the Thief” aka “The Thief Who Became a Disciple”.